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Artist Malkit Singh (1943-2018): He brought alive on canvas story of wheat fields of Punjab

Malkit never lost touch with the tractor or the muddy soil, the village folk, the bleating goats and scarecrows which were to feature as motifs over and again in his work

punjab Updated: Jan 19, 2018 23:21 IST
Nirupama Dutt
Nirupama Dutt
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Malkit Singh,Punjab news,Painter Malkit Singh
Portrait of Malkit Singh by poet Amarjit Chandan

With the passing away of painter Malkit Singh passes an era of early creativity post-Independence when young painters were reimaging their experience and telling their story in their own language of contemporary art.

It was told well by many but Malkit was perhaps the only painter who turned his experience and imagination in painting the rural life of Punjab with its complexities with rare passion.

It is a personal loss to me because this artist was a friend and confidant of long years and I am not alone in feeling so because he was thus to many. He was a rare person who shared with his friends his warmth, generosity, simplicity and crankiness as the years caught on and he negotiated his chosen loneliness.

The past two decades saw him fighting illness, injuries in accidents and a gloom but he retained his rustic sense of humour. I recall over two decades back he was admitted with an injured leg in the PGI, where he worked making his living doing medical drawings as a senior artist in the department of anatomy. His leg with its multiple fractures was suspended for some six months and he had to lie in the same posture. On a cold New Year evening poet Manjit Tiwana and I went to meet him and incidentally we were both wearing black. Later he was to tell his writer friends: “The two of them had come dressed as Rudalis to mourn at my bedside!”

On Friday afternoon, his friends mourned their loss in Sector 48 Amrita Shergil Society as the ambulance brought home the painter dead to be taken to his Rode-Landey village for the last rites on Saturday.

The sorrow on their faces was far greater than streams of tears by a hundred Rudalis. Malkit dear, you loved and were loved and your loss will ever remain.

Among those who gathered there were poets Amarjit Chandan, Jaswant Deed , artists Balvinder, Madan Lal, Bheem Malhotra, Sadhna Sanghar, photographers Diwan Manna, Devinder Singh, journalists Jagtar Singh, Sarabjeet Singh, Sidhu Damdami, theatre musician Kamal Tewari and a host of other friends and relatives.

Malkit was special to me in my career as an art writer because he was the first ever painter I interviewed. My colleague Jagtar Singh who was part of the charmed circle of Chandan, Malkit and others took me to interview him and we sat and talked with him in the PGI cafeteria. I recall Malkit saying, “I decided after school that I was not going to drive a tractor or walk in mud sowing seeds, since my drawing was good they decided that I should become an art master”.

So first at the Shimla College of Art and then at Chandigarh, Malkit honed his skills. Of course, he never lost touch with the tractor or the muddy soil, the village folk, the bleating goats and scarecrows which were to feature as motifs over and again in his work.

Deeply attached to his mother, he painted several paintings inspired by her and his early ‘Jago’, which Baba Chandan testifies as his best work, was gifted to me and hangs above my computer as I key in these words.

Such was his generosity and even though the last few years were tough for him, he painted nearly to the very end. Your work will live on. 

First Published: Jan 19, 2018 23:21 IST